DENVER — The NFL spent a lot of time and effort in the offseason simplifying what constitutes a catch and trying to make the game safer with new rules that require both offensive and defensive players to use their heads and not their helmets.
Blunders, however, are here to stay.
Take Rob Gronkowski's spectacular 28-yard catch between two Texans defenders — which maybe wasn't really a catch — that set up a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half, giving the Patriots a 21-6 lead on their way to a 27-20 victory Sunday.
The catch stood as called, not because NFL headquarters confirmed the reception upon review, but because the league didn't buzz the officials on the field fast enough to stop the next snap so they could further scrutinize Gronk's grab.
"New York did get back to us," referee Tony Corrente said. "However, unfortunately, they didn't get the game officials on the field until after the (next) play had already started."
Crucially, the catch/non-catch stood as called.
Houston coach Bill O'Brien, who would have been penalized for throwing his red challenge flag inside the 2-minute warning, could have called timeout to allow the league office more time. But he said he didn't have a good view of the play himself.
Anyway, the clock was running and O'Brien figured the Texans could hold New England to a field goal.
Tom Brady threw a 14-yard TD pass with 23 seconds left.
O'Brien said Monday he thinks it was indeed a catch by Gronkowski.
"On the coach's film, I really do," O'Brien said. "He went up; he caught it; he kept both hands underneath it. Now relative to some TV angles and some other video angles that I've seen, maybe it was questionable. From the coach's vantage point on the coach's tape, it looked like a catch to me."
We'll never know what Al Riveron, the NFL's senior vice president of officiating, would have ruled.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was slow on the draw in Denver after Broncos rookie running back Royce Freeman put the ball on the ground for an apparent fumble Sunday. But just like Brady in Foxborough, Case Keenum hustled up to the line and the Broncos got the next snap off quickly.
"They were going fast and I had a couple of seconds to throw it and I've got to find an official," Carroll explained after Seattle's 27-24 loss. "I threw it, but he said it was too late to call it, which I'm sure he was right about that. I just needed to respond a little bit faster. I didn't hear the word from upstairs as quickly as I needed to get it executed before they hurried up.
"That's how the hurry-up does help you once in a while."
Or hurt you.
There were 26 penalties enforced in the NFL opener between the Eagles and Falcons to go with offsetting penalties on a Philadelphia punt in the fourth quarter.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson, however, is convinced the officials accidentally called a foul on them when it was actually on Atlanta.
The officials called holding on No. 39 of the Eagles even though there wasn't anyone on the field for Philly wearing that number. Replays showed that No. 39 on the Falcons, Deante Burton, committed holding.
OUT OF SIGHT ...
Seattle six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas ended his holdout last week after his pay-me-or-trade-me demands were ignored by the Seahawks. He had an interception that set up Seattle's first touchdown of the season.
Two-time Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell stayed away from the Pittsburgh Steelers amid public criticism from some of his own offensive linemen. And his replacement starred.
By reporting to the Seahawks last week, albeit begrudgingly, Thomas assured he won't miss out on his roughly $500,000 weekly paychecks, although he still wants more than the $8.5 million he'll make in 2018, in the final year of his contract.
"During the game I'm not thinking about it," Thomas said. "I'm out here having fun with B-Mac (safety Bradley McDougald) and the guys. So, I'm not thinking about it. When I get asked about it, it definitely runs across my mind."
Bell's contract dispute triggered teammates to turn on him last week, when center Maurkice Pouncey said, "Honestly it's a little selfish. I'm kind of (ticked) right now. It sucks that he's not here. We'll move on as a team."
That, they did.
On a day quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggled throwing three interceptions and fumbling twice, Bell's sub, James Conner, was steady, scoring two touchdowns, rushing for 135 yards and adding 57 more on five catches as the Steelers escaped Cleveland with a 21-21 tie.
His 192 total yards matched Bell's best game from last season.
"I'm so tired of Le'Veon," Steelers right guard David DeCastro told reporters. "I'm so tired of it. Let's just worry about the guys that are here. I know you guys have stories to write and what not. I love Le'Veon, but we have to worry about the guys that are here. That's the only people that matter."
Dez Bryant is no longer with the Dallas Cowboys, but on Sunday his thoughts sure were .
The free-agent wide receiver called out his former team with a series of critical tweets as the Cowboys lost their opener, 16-8 at Carolina.
Bryant was released in April after eight seasons with the team and remains unsigned.
When one fan asked Bryant to have his agent call Cowboys owner Jerry Jones so Dallas could re-sign him, the three-time Pro Bowl selection said he could be a good fit in New England or with the Cowboys' NFC East rivals in Washington.
Learning that Jones left the locker room quickly without comment as most reporters were interviewing running back Ezekiel Elliott, Bryant responded, "I love Jerry ,"
"I honestly don't think HE wanted me gone so I feel his pain," Bryant wrote.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed to this report.